Thursday, August 23, 2007

Masters and the Mysterious Dead

Today is the birth date of poet Edgar Lee Masters, long one of my favorites because of his beautiful Spoon River Anthology, a book of poems that gives voice to each person buried in the graveyard in the fictional Spoon River (fictional, but it was based on two Illinois towns in which Masters grew up).

While Masters doesn't give the dead a full voice--that is, they never really explain the afterlife or how they died--he lets each dead person explore the one thing they want to talk about--whether it was that they had a good life, or a bitter regret, or a painful experience on earth. A couple of them were murdered, and they take their killers to task in their angry monologues. All of the dead have their say.

One of my favorite poems, Lucinda Matlock, gives voice to a woman who was strong despite many hardships, including the deaths of her husband and many of her children before her own death. Lucinda despairs that her children and grandchildren may well not be strong enough, and that they somehow expect things to go their way rather than dealing with whatever comes. She sums it up by telling them scornfully that they may not have enough of what it takes:

" . . .What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you—
It takes life to love Life."

As a mystery lover, I find satisfaction in the fact that Masters takes on the greatest mystery and allows us to see a world beyond life, a world where the dead are still just as human as they had been on earth.

Masters also has a rather lovely view of death, as we learn in some of the fictional epitaphs, and also in his own, which is taken from his poem "Tomorrow is my Birthday" from a volume he wrote in 1918:

"Good friends, let’s to the fields…
After a little walk and by your pardon,
I think I’ll sleep, there is no sweeter thing.
Nor fate more blessed than to sleep.

I am a dream out of a blessed sleep-
Let’s walk, and hear the lark."

(Photo link here.)

2 comments:

Ollie Onions said...

That's a striking cemetary photo.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks. I forgot to post the photo site, which is up there now. I found it on Yahoo images; it's a graveyard in England that is said to have inspired Dickens.